Facebook has bigger problems than “like” and “fans”

Recently Facebook has been making a series of “privacy” changes in order to better convert peoples relationships into Facebook’s money. Dennis Yu of blitzlocal made some very valid points about Facebook’s latest effort. Facebook is revisiting “like” and “fan pages”:

  • In effect, a fan page becomes more like a bumper sticker popularity contest than a real business presence or one of deeper engagement
  • In a “twitter-esque” move, Facebook is trading volume of interaction with depth of interaction.
  • Facebook will be able to sell engagement more broadly

The battle to pick the one “word” is meaningless and impossible.

Thinking points:

  • My kids like their classmates
  • My kids like chocolate.
  • My kids like Rush’s music.

When my kids click “like” on their classmates FB page – are my kids “fans” of their classmates?

When my kids click “like” on the Hershey FB page – are my kids “fans” of any Hersheys’ Chocolate, just the milk chocolate? or are they fans of the Hershey company?

When my kids click “like” on the Rush FB page – are my kids fans of Rush? Like some of Rush’s songs but would never go to a concert?

Mimic the real world

Any social network website should look first to the physical world social network interactions and try to mimic those. Attaching words to a relationship between people is hard. Facebook is not alone in this problem. All social network sites fail in these ways:

  1. No measure of relationship strength – casual, sexual, deep love, or acquaintance.
  2. No measure of relative and fuzzy relationship strength ( “I like Peter about the same as Paul, and I like Daniel more than Paul”)
  3. No time component – relationships if not maintained diminish
  4. No context – workplace only? professional? activity-centric ( i.e. a bicycling club )?
  5. Age/Culture
    • Example: Middle East v. Germany – very different. In one women are forced to cover up, in the other prostitution is legal. So in Saudi Arabia, “liking” an unmarried woman may invite a visit from her brothers. In Germany, someone may be “liking” their favorite hooker! (Similar cultural differences exist within the U.S.)
    • Age/Generational: someone who grew up in the 1990’s has different meanings attached to words than someone who grew up in the 1970’s
  6. No consideration of the type of the primary parties in the relationship. Is this relationship between 2 people, a person and a product, a person and a company, or two companies?
  7. No consideration of the power structure in relationship: Does an employee “like” their manager so they get the next raise?
  8. No secondary relationships – ( “I like Rush because my hot, hot girlfriend loves Rush. Oh, I just got dumped by that hot, hot now-ex-gf. I don’t listen to Rush any more.” )
  9. No asymmetrical relationships allowed. Both parties have to agree to a relationship for the FB connection to be made. LinkedIn has the same problem.

So Facebook is just spinning their wheels looking for that magical word – and yes they are heading to the lowest common denominator as a result.

what Facebook is really getting wrong

But Facebook’s biggest problem is not “Like” v. “Fan”. Their biggest problem is their casual disregard for the social contract Facebook used to have with their users – not the legal TOS. But the unwritten social contract that was expressed in the marketing message and the way people use FB.

FB is stomping all over that social contract with their continuous “privacy” tweaks. Anything entered into FB is bound to be revealed by “default” to be public at some point. Go away on vacation for a month and come back and discovered that half your love life has been defaulted to be announced to your manager.

If Mark Z. and the rest of Facebook’s management can’t understand their own relationship with their own users, then it is impossible for Mark, et.al. to realize that relationships are too complex to be devolved to a single universal word.

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